Skyrocketing inflation and rising food costs have made baking a costlier activity. As a result, we’re all making more thoughtful decisions at the store and in the kitchen to bake on a budget. So we’ve compiled tips and techniques from King Arthur bakers on how we bake with abundance while watching the bottom line:
DIY for less
Some pricey ingredients can be made from scratch for less. Editorial Coordinator Tatiana Bautista likes to make DIY almond paste, her own homemade halva (for recipes like Black Sesame Halva Coffeecake), and DIY dulce de leche from cans of sweetened condensed milk. She keeps costs down even further by sourcing her nuts from a local co-op and other stores with affordable bulk bin pricing.
Buy in bulk
Nuts aren’t the only products that are less expensive when you purchase in bulk. Associate Recipe Editor Kye Ameden goes through a lot of flour (like all of us bakers), so she buys hers one giant bag at a time. “Our flagship location sells 50-pound bags, so I keep a bucket in my kitchen and store the rest in a chest freezer to help keep it fresh.” Other employee-owners living outside of Vermont buy large bags elsewhere, like Copywriter Laura Scaduto, who finds 12-pound bags of King Arthur flour at her local Costco in Florida.
Make the most of sales
Keep an eye out for discounts on frequently used baking ingredients and snap them up when they go on sale. You can then store in the freezer for the long term until ready to bake. “I buy butter when it’s on sale and freeze the excess for up to a few months,” says Kye. Other ingredients this works well for include discounted fruit, nuts, and herbs.
Stash leftover ingredients (and bakes) in the freezer
You can make the most of your freezer beyond just storing sales. It’s also a fantastic resource to reduce waste, which in turn keeps down costs. Says Kye, “If I have leftover heavy cream after baking a recipe and I won’t be using it in the near future, I’ll freeze it.” This tip works for many other ingredients, from leftover egg whites to buttermilk.
It goes for freezing baked goods, too. According to Editorial Director David Tamarkin, “If I make a snacking cake that lives on my countertop, I’ll eat it all in a few days and want to bake something else. If I make a batch of cookies and immediately put (most of) them in the freezer, I’ll eat one or two a day and a batch will last for a week or longer. Ultimately, I’m saving money because I’m baking less.”
Skip the frosting
Classic cake frosting is full of expensive butter. So instead of a flourish of frosting, David likes to finish his cakes with a simple dusting of confectioners’ sugar or just serve them plain. This is a particularly great option for snacking cakes.
Get creative with your egg wash
“I almost never use an egg wash,” says Staff Editor Jessica Battilana. “I brush milk or cream on crusts and scones instead. Or, if I do use an egg wash, I’ll save it and add it to scrambled eggs the next day.”
Baker’s tip: Our Test Kitchen has a preferred milk for non-dairy egg washes. See our previous post: How one plant-based milk became our test kitchen's favorite "egg" wash.
Use dried, rather than fresh, milk
When it comes to ingredients, fresh isn’t always best. “I use our Baker’s Special Dry Milk and Dried Buttermilk Powder for baking instead of fresh milk,” says Kye. “One bag of our Baker’s Special Dry Milk saves you over 12 cups of milk. We don’t drink a lot of dairy milk in my household, so using dried milk helps prevent wasted leftovers from a large container of milk."
Fun-size your starter
Sourdough starter is a treasure, but it can use up a lot of flour to maintain. Baking Ambassador Martin Philip suggests reducing how much flour you use (and buy!) by keeping a smaller sourdough starter.
Look for recipes that call for oil
“I love butter and I firmly believe that there are many, many places where it has no substitute,” says Test Kitchen Director Sarah Jampel. “That said, butter is super expensive, so I try to use it sparingly and where it will make an impact. When I’m looking to save some money, I’ll choose recipes made with vegetable oil, especially loaf cakes and other snacking cakes. They may be missing that irreplicable butter flavor, but the upside is that they’ll stay moist longer.” Or, you can try subbing in oil for some of the butter in your cake recipes.
Frozen fruit is a win
Sarah is also a big fan of frozen fruit. “Much of the time when you’re baking with fruit, it’s cheaper (and just as delicious) to start with the frozen stuff,” she says. “This won’t work in every instance, and you may have to do a bit of jiggering with thickeners to get the moisture level just right, but it’s an easy way to get a lot of fruit without breaking the bank.” Learn more in our post on fresh vs. frozen fruit in baking.
Choose cocoa over chocolate
For classic chocolate baked goods, David advises baking recipes that call for cocoa instead of pricier chocolate. Examples include these Chocolate Dream Cookies, Chocolate Pound Cake, and Chocolate Madeleines — all of which rely on cocoa powder for full flavor and rich taste.
Bake with leftovers
“A lot of budget baking is about being resourceful with what you already have,” says Sarah. Make a pie crust with cookie crumbs (see tips at the bottom of our Graham Cracker Crust recipe), trifle with a cake that crumbled or came out a tad dry, potato rolls with leftover mashed potatoes, or bread pudding or French toast with staling bread. (For more ideas, see our previous post: 6 ways to use up leftover bread.)
Reuse your parchment
Parchment paper is one of our all-time favorite baking products. To reduce the amount she needs to restock, Senior Recipe Developer Molly Marzalek-Kelly will reuse parchment sheets as much as she can. “I keep the sheets folded in quarters in my freezer in order to avoid attracting rodent friends.”
Be smart about vanilla
It’s a pricey ingredient, and it’s used in so many recipes. David emphasizes the importance of buying good vanilla, even if it costs more upfront, “because you can use less of it, whereas you would have to use more of the lesser stuff.” Molly echoes this, and she also says that she will sometimes skip or reduce the vanilla if a recipe is heavy on other flavors and she knows it won’t be missed.
Similarly, Sarah will swap out vanilla extract for a less-pricey substitute like bourbon or dark rum in recipes where the vanilla doesn’t shine. (She acknowledges, “Of course, there are many instances where nothing can compare to vanilla extract, like in Crème Brûlée.”)
Bake reliable recipes
Even if you follow all the tips above, you’re still investing in ingredients and resources every time you bake. Which means you can’t afford to have your recipe fail. Turn to trusted resources like the King Arthur recipe site, where our extremely diligent Test Kitchen does extensive testing and thoughtful developing to ensure each recipe will succeed. Which means no wasted ingredients — or money.
If you're looking for budget-friendly recipes, try our beloved Cake Pan Cake, a Depression-era recipe made with frugal ingredients, or Our Favorite Sandwich Bread, a classic loaf with a short ingredient list that will last you all week long.
Do you have more tips for baking on a budget? Please share them in the comments, below!
Cover photo by Rick Holbrook.